Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 5 Moments for Hofstra Sustainability Studies Fall 2014

We had Fall Commencement on campus yesterday at Hofstra University and it got me reflecting on the great semester we had on campus this fall.  While I can think of dozens of great moments, particularly individual interactions with students and faculty, five events stood out for me.  Here they are in chronological order.

Dr. Garren (right) at the Peoples' Climate March.
Photo by Bret Bennington
1.  People's Climate March and New Faculty Member Sandra Garren.  This fall, new faculty member, Dr. Sandra Garren joined the Department.  We are so excited to have her aboard.  She brings energy and innovation that will help us in so many ways.  As an expert in energy and greenhouse gas management, she adds important expertise to our program.  Shortly after her arrival in September, over 200 Hofstra students, faculty, and staff participated in the People's Climate March.  Over 400,000 marched through the streets of New York seeking greater international action on climate policy.  It was an important moment in the environmental movement and it was great to have so many from Hofstra as part of it.  One of the most exciting aspects of the march was seeing so many student participants from all over the country.

I think the event really charged up the environmental community in Long Island and helped to bring greater organism and activism in the region.  It also helped to build connections among universities and non-profit organizations.  

2.  Nuclear Energy Debate.  In November, Hofstra University hosted the second annual Pride and Purpose Debate.  This year, the topic was whether or not nuclear energy should be expanded to create a more sustainable future.  Many have advocated for a quick ramp-up of nuclear energy to get us off of carbon as quickly as possible.  Others counter that nuclear energy is too dangerous or costly.  The debate was a great opportunity to discuss this important public policy issue.

The debate was the most-watched live academic event in Hofstra's history.

3.  Masters in Sustainability Approved.  In early December, we learned that our new Masters Program in Sustainability was approved by the state.  The first students will be enrolled in the Fall of 2015.  We have been working on this for two years and it was exciting to finally get the green light to move ahead with the program.  

If any of you out there on the Interwebs are interested in a masters in sustainability, contact me at

4.  1.5 Million Dollar Grant to Promote Stem Education.  Also in early December, we learned that a cooperative project between the Department of Biology and the Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability was funded by the state for 1.5 million dollars (with a significant match from Hofstra).  I haven't written much about this project, but I will in the coming year.  The project is an important one for Hofstra and for Long Island in that it seeks to address several issues important to the region:

     a.     Erase shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers
     b.     Bridge skills gaps between employers and the work force
     c.     Increase college level production of STEM disciplines
     d.     Improve skill sets of workforce in healthcare
     e.     Educate to integrate green technology
     f.      Support green training of the new and incumbent workforce to grow opportunities for local jobs
     g.     Promote high-value jobs through green workforce development

The project was a collaborative effort of many people at Hofstra and it was a transformative experience for all of us.  It changes the way we teach science and sustainability.

Xu Han, Robert Brinkmann, Scott Simon, and Taiyo Francis.  Photo by
Brett Bennington.
5.  Graduation.  Yesterday, three of our terrific students graduated.  These are the second, third, and fourth graduates from Hofstra's new undergraduate program.  Here's what they are doing after graduation.  Taiyo Francis was hired by a a major energy company in Germany and is off to work on green buildings and green energy issues.  Xu Han is the first graduate of our joint program with Qiongzhou University in Sanya, China.  She received a degree in Tourism from Qiongzhou and a degree in Sustainability from Hofstra.  She is going on for her masters in green tourism.  Scott Simon is this semester's entrepreneur.  He took many courses in Hofstra's entrepreneur program and is working to open up Long Island's first aquaponic fish farm.  

Graduation was particularly sweet yesterday since noted sustainability advocate and MacArthur genius grant recipient (and fellow Wisconsinite) Will Allen received an honorary doctorate.

Will Allen has been an inspiration to me in the development of our sustainability program here at Hofstra University.  His efforts in transforming urban and suburban landscapes into more sustainable centers for learning and activism is to be applauded.  Since I've been at Hofstra, he's visited our campus three times.  In 2013, every entering freshman read his book, The Good Food Revolution as part of Hofstra's Freshman Book Reading Program.  That year, he dedicated our second student campus garden.  We've sent three students to his center in Milwaukee for workshops.

Dr. Allen has helped send the message to our campus and our students that sustainability is about hard work, building community, education, and entrepreneurialism.  Mr. Allen has helped build a better world around food activism and has lifted many people out of poverty to good jobs.  Whether sustainability work is around food, green building, or tourism, the message he sends is that we are trying to build a better world for future generations.


Now we are on to 2015.  What does the year hold in store for Sustainability Studies at Hofstra?  Stay tuned.  It won't be boring.

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